logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Women's stockings before the mid 1900s
and the arrival of nylons

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As a child growing up in wartime Britain, the first I knew of nylon stockings was no more than hearsay. I never saw any until the late 1940s are early 1950s, but I certainly heard about them.

Suspender holding up a stocking

Suspender to hold up stockings. There would have been one at the back too.

Nylon stockings were known as 'nylons' and, like all stockings, came in pairs, as tights were unknown. They, like all the older stockings before them, were held up with suspenders attached to corsets - or later roll-ons or suspender belts.

Nylons carried a sheen and were said to make women's legs look very beautiful indeed - which was probably what all the fuss was about.

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Stockings before nylons

Before nylons hit the fashion scene, well-off young women wore silk stockings which were expensive, However during the war years and the austerity afterwards, silk stockings were impossible to buy.

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Painted stockings and seams

Poster for Silktona, liquid used to paint women's legs to make them appear to be wearing silk stockings.

Silktona poster, photographed in Amberley Museum. Silktona was used to paint women's legs to make them appear to be wearing silk stockings.

As nylon and silk stockings were unavailable, most young women simply painted their legs with cold tea or a commercially available liquid called Silktona. In order better to mimic stockings which were always made in one flat piece with the edges sewn together, the women painted a line on the backs of their legs to mimic a seam. I don't know what they used. I read somewhere that it was eyebrow pencil, but I doubt if that was available. Do you know?

Older women wore stockings of wool or lisle.

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Fully fashioned nylon stockings

Early nylon stockings didn't stretch. So they came in a range of sizes, shaped to the leg. They were described as "fully fashioned".

Fully fashioned nylons were produced flat and joined at the back with a seam, which fashion dictated had to be worn precisely up the centre of the back of the leg. Crooked seams were looked upon as slovenly. (On painted legs, the seams were drawn with anything dark that was available.)

Fully fashioned nylon stockings with seams, worn by a woman in the mid 20th century.

Fully fashioned nylon stockings, edited screen shot from an old film.

The most beautiful legs I ever saw

During the Second World War, I was a soldier in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Off South Africa, I was billeted with a couple whose daughter had the most beautiful legs I had ever seen and who clearly believed in the theory of "If you have it, flaunt it ".

Being outspoken I told her that I couldn't get over what beautiful legs she had, to which she replied, "Its not my legs that are beautiful, it's the nylon stockings that I'm wearing".

I replied that if nylon stockings could do that, then I would like some for my wife." So the woman offered to buy me some. I didn't ask where from! I ordered four pairs, which cost me eight pounds, and as I was earning 8 shillings a day that was 20 days pay.

My wife was probably the first woman in Australia to wear nylon stockings.

John Cole Smith

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Nylon stockings from American soldiers

The only women who got to wear nylons during the war were the favoured few of an age and opportunity to get themselves friendly with American soldiers stationed in the UK.

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Shop displays of nylons

Nylon stockings as displayed on 'legs'  by shops in the 1950s

Nylon stocking as displayed by shops in the 1950s, edited screen shot from an old film.

Nylons came in a range of shades, and women seemed particular about choosing the right one.

There was also a range of thicknesses, described in terms of 'denier'. The two main ones were 15 denier and 30 denier. 15 was the finer of the two.

Shops made the choice easier by displaying the various shades and thicknesses on dummy legs in windows or on counters.

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Invisible mending of nylon stockings

In the late 1940s or early 1950s, nylons did trickle into shops for ordinary women to buy, but understandably they were expensive. They were also extremely fragile.

When - not if - they caught on something, however tiny the tear, the fine knitting dropped its stitches into what were known as 'ladders'. Most high streets had what were known as 'invisible menders' who, for a charge, would painstakingly pick up the stitches with gadget something like an miniature rug-making tool, viewed through a powerful magnifying glass.

Later on, stockings were produced with a form of knot stitch that went into holes rather than ladders when torn.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.